Exploring Naha with a Bike

My day in Naha

So even though Naha doesn’t look like a nice city at first, I promise there are some places worth
seeing here!
First, start by bike. Because it is easier than by foot but you can explore a city way more intensely as if you are going by bus or car.
Second, take a bike that has some gears and good breaks, cause that city has some hills, I tell ya.
Third, be prepared to carry your bike every now and then to go the beautiful path.
Of course this is not a guide to explore all of Naha in one day but it will show you some good places and will make you appreciate the city a bit more.
Let’s start rolling, shall we?
We start at MyPlace, obviously, and first cycle down to Naminoue-gū, a Shinto shrine just above the beach. It is definitely beautiful and worth seeing, especially if you’ve already seen some shrines up on honshū just because the style is a bit different, tropical some would say, Ryukyu culture is probably the more correct term. People come here to pray for protection from evil, so definitely can’t hurt to visit the shrine at the beginning of the day ;). If you’re lucky the deigo tree in the middle of the premises is blooming. Also, you can park your bike down at Naminoue-dori street, right below the shrine which means instead of biking along the beach you better bike around.
Since we are already at the beach now, we might as well have a look at it, right? You can either bike along or walk and just come back to the same spot. Naminoue beach is beautiful – if you cut out the highway bridge just in front of you. Still, the water is incredibly blue and clear so definitely walk along the water for a bit!

Next stop: Kokusai Dori Shopping Street. It is quite easy to get there from the beach cause it’s
basically a straight line (the best is you download google maps beforehand or take a paper map with you). On the way we will see typical Naha buildings, lots of offices, little cute restaurants and stores.
Kokusai Dori Shopping Street can overwhelm you at first – it’s super busy, loud and colorful! But it is actually super fun to walk through and definitely the best place to look for any kind of souvenir. There are also a couple Blue Seal Ice Cream stores in that street which is mandatory to try! Blue Seal is an Okinawan ice cream brand that was founded in a US military base on Okinawa.

After we followed the street about one third of the way, we can go off to the right and find a really cool thrift store named Fishbowl. They have some nice and funky western style clothes and lots of shirts and hoodies from American sport teams. From there is just around the corner to go to First Makishi Public Market and further to Heiwadori Shopping Arcade. In this area you’ll definitely find some good snacks or a lunch meal depending in which state of craving your are in at that moment.
Regarding your bike it’s probably a good idea to just park it somewhere for a moment, otherwise you’re too occupied and can’t really enjoy all the options of the market.
From here, strengthened and refreshed we take a little spa in the green of Kibogaoka Park. This is the first moment you might have to carry your bike or you just leave it outside of the park and pick it up after. It’s not a especially beautiful park but after so much city impressions I always need a little break. Maybe you see some of the many many Okinawan cats strolling around or get fed by one of the restaurant owners.
Now the real big part of the day begins. Remember I said this city is hilly? Yep, you’ll see that now.
First we look up on the map in which direction Shikina shrine lies (pretty much east) and then switch on our inner compass and follow the small streets to get there. And yes, it goes uphill. But if you have a good bike you should be fine.
You will see kind of a grave yard (if you go on a Sunday you will see people picnicking in front of their family members graves) which we follow through and get to the top of the hill. Yes, the top! Enjoy the cooling breeze and (sorry, not very beautiful) view. And you can already see Shurijo castle! Have a look around, try figure out where MyPlace is, can you see the green hills in the distance? If you are familiar with the movie Hecksaw Ridge it might remind you of that… in the end everything is prettier from above! But I promise, it will get even better.
From here you could visit Shikina-en Royal Garden, there is a small entry fee but it’s definitely a
beautiful park. It was once the second residency of the Ryukyu royal family.
So now, we’re at the top of a hill and looking towards the other hill we want to go to – Shurijo
Castle. Again, use your inner compass (and of course your map) to guide you through the little
streets. Take Hantagawa Park as a landmark, that will be pretty much the direction where we want to arrive at the foot of the hill. On the way, don’t forget to take in the view ;).
From here you cross the road and you will be on Kinjo Stone Road. Ok, so THIS is what we came for.
At least that’s what I thought when I saw it. A beautiful 500 year old road made out of Ryukyu
limestone going up the hill. Yes, you might have to get off your bike and push it (eventually carry it
for a few steps) but it is worth it, I swear. You will find lots of traditional decorations on the houses along the road, beautiful flowers and a massive old tree. Keep going straight here, go up the stairs and we will walk through a tunnel of leaves… wellness for the soul. And then you’re at the top!
Well almost, but from here it’s not much anymore. We park our bike (there is a designated parking area for bikes) and then walk to the castle. Basically just follow the signs and uphill. And then, when you finally stand on top of the 600 year old stone wall with all the green surrounding you and a beautiful view over Naha you will know I was right. This city can be beautiful.
This is a good moment to eat a little snack and drink lots of water. You did it.
If you go back to MyPlace from here, good news: You follow one road all the way downhill. That’s why you need good breaks!!!
If you still have lots of energy, I definitely recommend to visit Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum. It’s not far from MyPlace so just a small detour and very informative even when you don’t speak Japanese (like myself at that point). You will learn lots about the history of Okinawa, the traditions, the culture and understand the spirit of the Okinawan people. Also there is a great section about the flora and fauna of the island.

I hope you had fun with me today! Let’s have a beer at MyPlace!

Marilyn

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